My GTD System #2 - Horizons of Focus

Welcome to part #2 of the My GTD series, going over my approach to GTD and OmniFocus. Last time we looked at what makes up my system, from folders to contexts and perspectives. Today we'll go over the Horizons of Focus, how I structure these lists, and my approach to long-term planning.

This may sound like a strange detour but stick with me. I've adapted my workflows to make it easier to focus on what truly matters to me. The horizons of focus have become the backbone of my system.

Horizons of Focus

In a nutshell, the horizons of focus are the various levels at which we plan our lives. At the lowest levels you have your next actions and projects, and at the highest your life purpose. As you go up through the different horizons you're look further ahead into the future and your goals become more broad and/or abstract.

This is a part of the GTD framework where people might struggle. You need to figure out what your life purpose is--which is a challenge on it's own--and then you have to clarify these into achievable long and short-term goals.

Based on ideas from Joe Buhlig, Shawn Blanc, Merlin Mann, and known principles of effective goal-setting, I've cobbled together a step-by-step approach. Here it is:

50,000 (Life Purpose and Vision)

These are statements about the kind of person I want to be and the sort of life I want to lead. They are more important than any one job or place. They are true no matter how much money I have, or where in the world I am.

I was reluctant to share my life vision items in public. But an example here is far more useful, and you know what? I am damn proud of these:

  • Make a positive impact on other people's lives
  • Live with purpose
  • Support the people in my life
  • Enact change I'm proud of through care and dedication
  • Live in a nourishing environment
  • Learn from others; constantly question yourself
  • Observe life and myself in a positive and mindful way
  • See and experience the world and all kinds of creative and ingenious endevours
  • Have fun and be silly

40,000 (3-5 Year Plan)

David Allen describes this horizon as a set of long-term goals. To make it easier, I think of this as my 3-5 year plan. The statements become more specific, preferably with a measureable quantity associated:

  • Be in regular contact with my parents and organise to see them as often as possible.
  • Achieve 80 Kg with 15% BF
  • Have a JLPT certificate at least level 3
  • Have enjoyed 50 different books
  • Live in Japan in a beautiful home

Each of these connects to atleast one item at the 50,000 foot. Try to make these realistic and measureable where possible.

It's important to remember that plans will only take you so far. Life does whatever it wants and I won't achieve some of these goals. Think of these as signposts to help you move forward in the right direction.

30,000 (1-2 Year Plan)

I pick a bunch of the 40,000 foot goals that I want to work on and lay out a roadmap towards them over the next year, month by month:

  • Mar: Finish development of the finance application at work
  • Mar: Return to my main project at work
  • Mar: Plan parents visit
  • Mar: Finish reading Dresden: Death Masks
  • Apr: Finish reviewing chapter 2 of Remember the Kanji

In my complete list you'll see I'm working towards three of my 40,000 goals. If I fail to accomplish some of these, that's OK. Having to change your plan is better than not having a plan at all. I will either kick something to the next month or if it's no longer relevant, remove it all together.

20,000 (Areas of Responsibility)

I lay out my areas of responsibilites as folders in OmniFocus. To come up with these I made a mind map of all the things I'm invovled in, the things which I am accountable for, and the stuff that's important to me. I then tried to group them into categories that make sense. These change as my responsibilties evolve, which is to say, more often in the context of work and less so in my personal life.

Jay I'm Exhausted!

Grab a drink, get a snack. You've earned it. That was a long, but necessary ground-work discussion before we move to my workflows for daily planning and long-term reviewing.

Remember, I built these lists over months of repeated reviewing and refining. It also doesn't mean that my life is perfectly aligned with all my long-term goals. I get distracted by nearest and loudest as much as others. I have to work on things that don't matter as much as anybody else.

Having some idea of where you want to go, and doing your best to plot a course, is better than nothing.

For today, I want you to look through your 50,000 foot level list and make sure it's encompassing everything which is important to you.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment or message me on twitter

Have a good one. Until Next Time.

-- Jacob Blanco